CHRIST AND THE CHRISTIAN IN TEMPTATION, COUNSEL AND CONSOLATION FOR THE TEMPTED
CHRIST AND THE CHRISTIAN TEMPTED TO DISTRUST DIVINE PROVIDENCE.
"And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward an hungered. And when the tempter came to Him, he said, If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But He answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God."-Matt. iv. 2-4.
Such was the first temptation of our Lord. And the intelligent reader will not fail to trace a striking analogy with the temptation presented to our first parents: both temptations having to do with appetite, both springing from the same source, and both involving an indictment of God: the one, impeaching the Divine veracity; the other, the Divine goodness. "When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eye, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof and did eat." And so listening to the declaration of the serpent-"Ye shall not surely die"-and yielding to the temptation, she ate of the fruit, and brought death into our world and all our woe. And thus in both cases-that of the First and that of the Second Adam-the temptation took the form of an appeal to appetite. "And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward an hungered."
Satan, with an intelligence and cunning peculiarly his own, knows how to shape his assault to the time and circumstance of the assailed. In no instance were his knowledge and subtlety more conspicuous than now, and in no instance was his shaft leveled at so illustrious a mark. It was of the physical condition of our Lord that Satan now took advantage. Forty days and forty nights’ abstinence from food-while the fact on the one hand demonstrated His Deity, on the other it confirmed His Humanity-must have produced an effect upon His bodily frame, intensely exhausting. How natural, yet how artful, that Satan, availing himself of this peculiarly trying position of Christ, should select from his quiver an arrow so singularly appropriate and so precisely aimed! And in this particular we trace a close parallel of the Christian’s temptation to Christ’s. In both instances the enemy adroitly adapts his temptation to the individual circumstances of his victim. Seizing upon our physical, mental, and spiritual condition-the infirmity of the body, the depression of the mind, and the spiritual phases of the soul-he selects the most fitting shaft, and with the accuracy of an eye that never misses, hits the very centre of his mark. The appeal of Satan, as we have remarked, was to the physical feeling of hunger-the most natural and powerful of all the animal conditions of our nature. It has exerted and vindicated its all-potent and stern authority in instances where intellect the most commanding, and genius the most brilliant, and heroism the most lion-hearted, and even piety the most fervent, have acknowledged its supremacy and kissed its scepter. And now came the battle! Availing himself of this physical infirmity-the painful, gnawing, cravings of nature-the subtle Foe thus approaches with his battery-"When the Tempter came to Him he said, If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." How suitable and subtle this form of temptation! His first step is to place in a questionable light the Divine Sonship of our Lord: "If Thou be the Son of God." He does not-and he dare not-deny it; but investing the fact with a thin transparent veil of reality, he would fain throw upon our Lord the proof of His Divine Messiahship. Full well, and despairingly, did the wily Demon know that Christ was the Son of God! Listen, my reader, to the reluctant yet honest confession: "The unclean spirit cried out, saying, What have I to do with Thee, Thou Jesus of Nazareth? I know Thee who Thou art, the Holy One of God." "And devils (demons) came out of many, crying out and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God." Satan delights in a shining mark! The loftier the position and the holier the employment, the greater is his malignity and the more artful and persevering his assault. Oh, were ever before, or since, his barbed arrows hurled at such a being as Christ? Such is the form in which he often moulds his temptation of the Christian. He will set you doubting your sonship and questioning your saintship, and then set you upon a line of unscriptural and questionable proof, which will but give countenance to his charge, and involve the fact of your conversion in a yet more impenetrable mystery. An important truth confronts us here-viz., that the devils never absolutely denied, but invariably acknowledged, the Deity of our Lord. It was left for man-fallen, sinful man-to do what demons never attempted-to pluck the diadem of Divinity from His brow, and trail it in the dust!
And now, mark the subtle form of the temptation: "If Thou be the Son of God-or, as the original would sustain the rendering, ‘Seeing Thou art the Son of God’-command that these stones be made bread." How natural and plausible the temptation! Jesus was enduring the torturing pangs of hunger: how natural and how easy to have proved His Divinity by thus supplying the pressing needs of His Humanity! That He could by a single volition have converted the stones into bread, Satan himself did not doubt. But would it have been morally right? Would He not thus have brought His miraculous power into collision with Divine providence? Most assuredly! He would have performed a miracle at the expense of His Father’s glory. And how does our Lord quench this flaming dart of Satan? With what weapon does He foil His subtle foe? It is with "The Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." "He answered and said, it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." The meaning of these words is obvious.
Our Lord, as man, lived as much a life of faith on the Father as we. We too much overlook this fact. He could not in all points have been tempted like as we are had this not been so. Oh, I love to trace this life of faith which my Lord and Savior lived! And when I am tempted and tried-when the ‘cruse of oil and the barrel of meal’ are well-nigh exhausted, oh it is blessed to recall the moment when He who bore my sins in His own body on the tree, was an hungered and thirsted; and as Man, poor, needy, and often dependent upon the bounty of others-for the holy women ministered unto Him of their substance-He trusted in the providence and promise of His God. It was the taunt of His murderers when writhing in agony upon the cross-"He trusted in God: let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him." Little thought they to what a blessed fact in our Lord’s history they were unwittingly testifying-the faith of Christ in His Father!
To this particular assault of Satan the Christian is constantly exposed. We have remarked upon Satan’s wisdom and sagacity in moulding his temptations to the circumstances of the tempted. In nothing, perhaps, is this more apparent than in availing himself of times of difficulty and need to inject distrust of the Divine power and goodness. To the Christian in temporal embarrassment he will suggest a worldly mode of relief, compromising the simplicity of his faith and dishonoring the faithfulness of his Lord. "Command these stones that they be made bread." To a man in deep and pressing poverty-a true Christian or a worldling-he will insinuate some scheme of obtaining money of doubtful expediency-the gambling-table, the turf, the stock-exchange, or some other speculative mode equally dishonest and dishonorable;-so tempting the bait and so skilful the angling, as effectually to attract and fatally to ensnare the soul not conversant with, or suspicious of, his devices. It is but the old policy a thousand times over-"Command these stones that they be made bread." Oh, let us ‘resist the Devil, that he may flee from us!’ But, beloved, has your Heavenly Father ever given you reason to distrust His providence, to doubt His love? You have often felt the pressure of need; it may be, the gnawings of hunger, the weight of trouble-has He not as often appeared for your relief? The temptation, perhaps, has been to set you upon debating the fact of your Divine sonship, and consequently to distrust your Divine Father; and thus doubting your filial relation to God, and calling in question the reality of your conversion to Christ, you have equally doubted God’s paternal care of you. Satan, well knowing that he has shorn the locks of your strength, has lessened your moral power, and weakened the only and all-powerful motive to a loving, childlike reliance upon the providential care of your Heavenly Father, thus setting you upon the vain, God-dishonoring task of satisfying the gnawings of hunger by converting stones into bread!
But how are you to resist the temptation and foil the tempter? With the weapon wielded by your Lord-"The Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." "But He answered and said, it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." It is an interesting fact that the only offensive part of the Christian armor is the "Sword of the Spirit"-all other parts of the panoply are defensive. With this we are to oppose, and with this vanquish, our foe. Faith grasping the weapon-"It is written"-renders the soul invulnerable to the most flaming darts, and the weakest combatant invincible to the most subtle foe. We have nought to lean upon but the naked Word of God-nor want we more. Our blessed Lord summoned no angels to His rescue, neither did He draw upon the infinite resources of His Godhead-both He might have done. But, to teach His saints in all ages, and under all temptations, that by the Word of God alone they were to conquer, He met and repulsed every assault of Satan by the words, "It is written." Are we tempted to distrust the providence of God in a time of pressing need? Prompted by atheistical unbelief, are we resorting to unscriptural and unlawful means-commanding the stones that they be made bread? Oh, let us pause in our folly and sin, and fix the eye upon those Divine, magic words-"It is written." Dwell upon them for a moment. Are you in trouble? It is written-"Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee." Are you in want? It is written-"My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Are we cast down with overwhelming care? It is written-"Be careful for nothing, but by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, make known your requests unto God." Are you painfully conscious of the power of indwelling sin? It is written-"Sin shall not have dominion over you." Are you assailed by the ungodly world? It is written-"In this world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." Measuring the faithfulness of God by the inconstancy of man, are you tempted to believe that the Divine faithfulness and power and love of God will finally fail you? It is written-"Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have; for He has said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my Helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me." Are your sins many and as scarlet: your sense of guilt heavier than you can bear? It is written-"The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin!" In a word-Are you in pressing need-wanting bread, pinched with hunger? It is written-"He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rock: bread shall be given him; his water shall be sure." Enough! It is written-"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away." But, oh infinitely beyond the wants of the body are the needs of the soul! It is written-"Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God doth man live." This is the bread by which we really live-Christ Jesus, the bread of life. "I am the bread of life" Oh, ye who are striving and toiling for the bread that perishes, remember the words of God-"Man doth not live by bread alone." This is not your life-this not your true bread. The body will resolve itself into its original element, and "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust," will be its final condition; but the soul, immortal as its Sire, will live on through the endless cycles of eternity. For this, our present and future state, God has provided by the gift of His beloved Son-the bread that comes down from heaven, which gives life to the world. By this bread alone you really live! The soul has needs that God only can meet-hunger that Christ alone can supply-yearnings that eternity alone can compass. Oh, starve not your soul for the body-rob not your higher, nobler, and more enduring nature to meet the appetites and demands of a nature fleeting, transient, and perishing, and which soon will perish! It is written-"What will it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" Oh, feed not your soul on ashes; turn from the husks of worldly wealth, carnal delight, human ambition, political place and power,-and heed the wants, and respond to the claims, and satisfy the yearnings and aspirations of the soul-destined to live in Heaven or Hell for ever! "Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God doth man live." Bend your ear to His gracious but most solemn words-"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day." Lord! evermore give me this bread.
"Bread of Heaven! on Thee I feed,
For Thy flesh is meat indeed!
Evermore my soul be fed
With this true and living Bread!
Day by day with strength supplied
Through the life of Him who died.
"Vine of Heaven! Thy blood supplies
This vast cup of sacrifice.
’Tis Thy wounds my healing give;
To Thy cross I look and live.
Thou my life! oh let me be
Rooted, grafted, built on Thee!"
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